In 1940, George Theodore Gustavus (1884-1976), a veteran lighthouse keeper, became the keeper of Chatham Lighthouse. Known by locals on Cape Cod as “Keeper Gus,” he had joined the U.S. Lighthouse Service as an assistant keeper at Tarpaulin Cove Lighthouse in 1910. Later he served at Nobska Light, Eastern Point Light, Thacher Island Light, Cuttyhunk Light, Bird Island Light, Dumpling Rock Light, Prudence Island Light, and for the second time at Nobska Light from 1939 until 1940, when he took over at Chatham Lighthouse.
In 1933, Keeper Gus had the distinction of being the last lighthouse keeper to serve at the Bird Island Light in Marion, Massachusetts, when it was automated. On September 21, 1938, keeper Gus’s wife Mabel, and son Edward, were killed at Prudence Island Lighthouse, in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, when the lighthouse keeper’s house was destroyed during a hurricane, leaving Gus with nine surviving children. Martin Thompson, the former keeper of Prudence Island Lighthouse from 1905 to 1933, also sought shelter in the keeper’s house during the hurricane and was killed.
In 1939, Keeper Gus joined the Coast Guard when they took over the U.S. Lighthouse Service, while stationed as the head keeper at Nobska Lighthouse. In 1940, he was transferred to become head keeper at Chatham Lighthouse, where in 1943, he married his second wife, Edith, and they lived at Chatham until 1945, when he retired from the Coast Guard as a Chief Boatswain’s Mate. Keeper Gus had the unique distinction of being the last U.S. Lighthouse Service keeper to serve at Chatham Lighthouse, and then the first Coast Guard lighthouse keeper to serve there.
George T. Gustavus, shown here in his U.S. Lighthouse Service uniform, died on September 13, 1976, and is buried in the Evergreen Cemetery in Marion, Massachusetts. Hopefully, the day will come when someone, or some organization, will place a U.S. Lighthouse Service Memorial Marker at his gravesite.
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